Library Board, Residents Ask for Reinstatement of Controversial Reading Guide

The discussion of a monthly library reading guide pulled earlier this month due to controversy over an ad promoting an oral sex guide continued at the last Canby City Council meeting, with several community members requesting the subscription be reinstated and two councilors pushing back on a local resident’s letter accusing them of supporting child pornography.

The issue concerned BookPage, a Nashville-based circular containing dozens of book recommendations and reviews that is distributed to more than 4,000 libraries and bookstores and hundreds of thousands of readers across the country each month.

The Canby Public Library has subscribed to the publication for more than a decade — the fees paid by the local nonprofit Friends of the Canby Public Library — and had never received a complaint until the March 2021 issue, which featured an ad promoting the self-published book Lick Like a Lesbian, described as a “fun but informative guide to perfecting oral sex.”

The book recommendation that caused controversy in the March 2021 issue of BookPage.

The book is not actually available at the Canby library — or any public library in Clackamas County, for that matter. And, City Administrator Scott Archer, after discussions with Mayor Brian Hodson and Library Director Danny Smith, had already made the decision to cancel the city’s subscription to BookPage after residents complained.

But that didn’t stop a handful of constituents (including two members of the Canby School Board) from raising their concerns at the March 3 City Council meeting, repeatedly calling the blurb “pornographic” and claiming that the publication could have been handed out to children.

Several city councilors voiced similar concerns.

“It’s not whether or not it’s offensive; it’s that a publication went out into the hands of children, as far as we know,” Council President Traci Hensley said. “Little Suzy could have gone down to the library to pick up her own books.”

Councilor Shawn Varwig agreed, calling the publication “a how-to guide for oral sex that was potentially given out and promoted to children,” while Councilor Jordan Tibbals criticized the “poor leadership” that allowed the situation to occur, adding “the innocence of children is something we should all care very, very deeply about.”

At last week’s council meeting, Councilor Chris Bangs fired back, criticizing his fellow councilor members for comments he described as “not fully honest.”

“None of this is true,” he said, after quoting the above statements and others (without naming the councilors who said them). “This was never marketed to children. Children never received this, as far as anybody knows. The staff at the library specifically said they did not put this into any bags with children’s books in it.

“Because children would not be interested in reading this. It’s not because of the book in the advertisement — it’s because it’s really boring for kids.”

Bangs then quoted Kevin Starrett, director of the gun-rights group Oregon Firearms Federation and a longtime Canby resident, who had commented at the first meeting and then followed up with an email to Hodson, Bangs and Councilor Greg Parker the next day, criticizing Bangs and Parker.

“Last night, like numerous other Canby residents, I was treated to the stomach churning spectacle of Canby City Council members DEFENDING the library’s distribution of pornography to children,” Starrett wrote.

“One of these detestable creeps is a TEACHER in a Canby school, which makes me think perhaps it’s a blessing that our kids have been locked out of them.
I truly hope that this demonstration of their twisted mindsets has an effect on your assessment of their positions on matters before the council.”

In truth, neither Bangs nor Parker had defended the book or the publication. Bangs had acknowledged that the material could be seen as offensive, while arguing that elected officials shouldn’t be in the business of censoring what materials are available to the public.

And, for his part, Parker had simply noted that the city charter does not give councilors direct oversight over library staff or how they perform their duties.

“I think it’s astounding that I have to announce to you that I do not, and never have, believed it’s appropriate to distribute pornography to children,” Bangs said Wednesday.

Parker also professed to be against distributing pornography to kids at the public library.

“I, too, have been troubled by what I will put kindly as ‘hyperbole,'” Parker said. “I think we all owe it this year to try and hold some of that back, speak with humility.

“I never thought I would have to publicly say, ‘No, I do not support a policy of providing pornography to children,’ but that was how quickly that conversation got out of hand.”

Earlier in the meeting, Hodson had read aloud a letter from Kathleen Mulligan and Gayle Elizabeth, members of the Friends of the Library board of directors, who expressed their concerns about the city’s decision to cancel BookPage — without casually accusing any elected officials or city staff of committing a felony.

BookPage is a resource magazine for adults who are looking for reading material,” they wrote. “It provides new book options in all genres from mysteries and romance to non-fiction. It is not read by children; nor is it provided to children by the library staff.

“The objection, that resulted in the consideration of discontinuing BookPage, was not to the publication itself, but about an advertisement. The editorial content has never been called into question. Canceling BookPage because of its advertising sponsors is [an] overreaction, and canceling the subscription is a punishment that does not fit the crime.”

The Canby Library Board — a separate group of citizens, appointed by the City Council, which provides input and oversight on library services — is also requesting that the publication be reinstated, according to Bangs, who serves as liaison to the library board.

“The city reacting the way they did to the issue about the BookPage was, in fact, an act of censorship,” Bangs said, quoting a statement from the board. “The library advisory board was uncomfortable with the quick nature in which that publication was pulled, without a thorough discussion of what it meant to censor materials like that.”

BookPage itself has also weighed in on the controversy, responding to an inquiry from a Friends board member that was shared with The Canby Current.

The response, written by a vice president and associate publisher of the magazine, called the ad “an anomaly,” saying this was “the first time in our 30 year history a title included in an ad was as controversial as this one.”

“It is not the norm for us and you can be certain we will have a more watchful eye over submitted ads in the future, even from longtime, trusted advertisers like this one,” Elizabeth Grace Herbert wrote.

“We greatly value Canby Public Library’s support of BookPage over the last 10 years, and hope that one title in an admittedly poorly judged advertisement will not affect the subscription going forward.”

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